The average church worship gathering sees two kinds of guests: those with a church background and those with little-to-none. The first type has some expectation of what the gathering will be like. The second goes by rumors, TV shows, and, often, negative word-of-mouth. How we engage guests—especially first-time guests—can determine not only whether they will return, but also whether they will judge us as genuinely interested in them.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to make sure our attempts to welcome are actually welcoming.
1. Don’t rely on a greeting time to welcome guests.
Regardless of how effusive we are during the mid-service greeting time, it’s probably not the best way to make visitors feel welcome. This time can be viewed by visitors as members tossing a quick hello to those they do not know before turning to catch up with those they do. Guests expecting to meet regular attenders may be surprised to find that the “greet those around you” time is actually a “greet those you know” time. They end up feeling left out, not welcomed. To solve this, don't even worry about greeting those you know. If you are next to a visitor, take the entire greeting time to find out more about them and then introduce them to whoever comes up to you.
2. Do utilize a trained greeter team.
We already place greeters at the entry doors and their primary ministry is to extend a hand and a smile to break down guests’ apprehensiveness. These volunteers are the vanguard of our welcome team, so they need to also brag on kids, admire new babies, and help guests find the friend who invited them. But it is an expectation of guests to be greeted by whoever opens the door and hands them a bulletin. What will truly make the difference is to be approached by someone not in any "greeter role" capacity. Take time before church to find a new face, whether in the lobby or already seated in a pew. People don't go into the sanctuary to sit ten minutes before the service because they want to. They do it because they don't know anyone and they don't want to stand around with no one talking to them.
3. Do teach members how to welcome people.
Much of our society lives in isolation—if not physically, then relationally—and we no longer emphasize “ice breaker” conversation and small talk. Starting purposeful conversations from scratch is a challenge for many people. It isn’t innate; it must be learned. Approach people you do not know before the service starts. Introduce yourself and ask their name. (And remember it!). Then, move beyond “How ‘bout this weather?” to “Tell me about your family?” or “What brought you to this service today?” Then, find someone else to introduce them to. The more people they meet, the more important they will feel. We do not want anyone to leave our church feeling like they didn't matter. Each person is valuable and we need to make sure they feel valued at Southtown.
4. Do implement a strategic follow-up plan for guests.
At Southtown, we have an Impact Ministry team that follows up with visitors. This is done with a combination of cards, text messages, emails, and phone calls. We are in need or more people to help with this important ministry. If you want to be intentional about making visitors feel like they matter, please contact Carla in the office.
“Welcoming” is an attitude we need in our congregation and an atmosphere we need to in our Southtown culture. But “feeling welcomed” is determined in the heart of the recipient. Intentional strategies are important, but unless we truly care about the guests in our midst, the best of plans won’t make a difference.
Adapted from "6 Dos and Don'ts for Welcoming Guests" by Marty Duren, Christianity Today/Pastors